Skip to content

U.S. News Rankings and Diversity

Posted By Kevin R. Johnson, Nov 14, 2011

On Friday, I was in New York for a conference on “Opening Doors: Making Diversity Matter in Law School Admissions” hosted by the Society of American Law Teachers at St. John’s University School of Law.  Co-sponsors included the Ron Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development, LatinoJustice PRDLEF, and the American Bar Association Council on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Educational Pipeline.  The conference, which was open to law students, prospective applicants, admissions professionals, and law professors and administrators, studied the problems of diversity on law school admissions.

I was honored to be on a plenary panel on “Reforming U.S. News Rankings to Include Diversity,” with, among others, Robert Morse, Director of Data Research, U.S. News & World Report.  Morse is the person in charge of the U.S. News graduate and professional school ranking methodologies.  My presentation contended that a racially diverse student body and faculty contribute to teaching and scholarly excellence at a law school.  Consequently, I advocated the inclusion of both student and faculty diversity in the U.S. News rankings of law schools, a topic that I wrote in a recent article in the Iowa Law Review. Associate Dean Vik Amar and I wrote about the issue in two columns - here are Part 1 and Part 2.

The give-and-take with Morse was fascinating.  Morse expressed an incredible openness to the discussion of possible changes in the U.S. News’ rankings’ methodologies and stated his willingness to engage comments and to entertain suggestions.  However, Morse expressed concern with using the rankings for “social engineering” and, among other matters, expressed concern with how to evaluate diversity at a law school in a state without much diversity.  My responses (1) the U.S. News rankings, with a focus on LSAT scores already engages in “social engineering” at law schools by disparately – and negatively – affecting minority enrollment on law schools; and (2) if diversity contributes to excellence at a law school, the demography of a state should not be relevant to evaluating the diversity at a law school, especially among law faculty since law faculty are generally hired on a national market.   

There is growing national discussion of the inclusion of a diversity index in the U.S. News rankings of law schools.  Currently, U.S. News ranks schools by student diversity but includes this ranking separately from the overall law school rankings, which some view as marginalizing student diversity concerns.

The California State Bar’s Council on Access and Fairness has called for U.S. News to adjust its formula so that diversity counts for 15 percent of the overall law school rankings.  A 2010 Report of the Special Committee on the U.S. News rankings by the Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar concludes that, in its evaluation of law school quality, the current U.S. News “methodology tends to reduce incentives to enhance diversity of the legal profession.”  By focusing, for example, on median LSAT scores as an important measure of student selectivity, the U.S. News rankings arguably inhibit law schools from aggressively pursuing diversity among the student body.

Hopefully, the discussion at St. John’s will commence a more robust discussion of diversity of student and faculty at the nation’s law schools.